Episode five-Grasslands – Aine Mallon
Throughout this report I will be discussing the range of species that thrive within grasslands and how their survival skills have enabled them to adapt these habitats, as grasslands are prone to fires, flood and frost and still flourish. Within this, I will be relating these adaptation skills from the diversity of species to the human world and how we can look to the animal kingdom for hope and new ways to help us through this difficult time. I will be concluding my report with the issue of climate change in relation to the grasslands and how the impact of human activities which increase the rate of climate change are destroying the grassland areas.
Grasslands create a unique world, within them there is a continuous cycle of abundance, destruction, and rebirth. Within Northern India, the Saiga antelope is a common herd found here during springtime mainly for the new grassland, but also for giving birth to their young. The tall grassland is a perfect place to hide their young as they remain hidden from the surrounding predators. The Saiga antelope is well adapted for the continuous changes in the grassland due to the different seasons as they have ‘lanky legs’ built for life on the move. As well, they have noses which can detect the smell of grass from hundreds of kilometres away. Other species have also adapted to grassland life such as the harvest mouse. They can climb to the top of grass for food source as their prehensile tail acts as a fifth limb.
We are witnessing how this species have adapted to its surrounding habitat. Due to COVID-19, we are facing some restrictions, however from this species, we should consider how important our surrounding landscape is for our survival during this time too. One must not neglect the outdoor world and remember how to make the most of the natural world for our emotional, physical, and mental health.
How the weather impacts species within the grassland
All the rain that grasslands need for survival will arrive all at once, it was recorded that thirty centimetres of rain landed in the space of a day, which causes the grassland to undergo radical change. Within Southern Africa, when rainwater arrives it transforms the Okavango grassland, where almost 8,000 square kilometres are flooded. This causes problems for the predators (lion pride) as big cats are not very fond of water, and their usual prey such as antelopes and zebras are much quicker in the water than they are. However, to overcome this the lion pride came together to attack a larger species, which the growth of grassland attracts, a buffalo. This is a much bigger prey but when the lions come together, they have strength in numbers.
Today, farmers can relate to this issue as weather will affect their work and food source availability. The projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability may all result in reduced agricultural productivity. Farmers face challenges as they supply food to the supermarkets for society. Therefore, they work together continuously and come up with new ideas to mitigate the loss of their crop yields.
It is important to remember that when we are faced with challenges in life, there is no need to panic as there will always be another option to overcome the issue. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen countless efforts from all the key workers, as well as volunteers working together to deliver goods and services to those who need. Just like the animal kingdom, success can be achieved from working together.
Grass cutter ants
These ants can be found anywhere that grass grows on the planet, some grassland blades are so tough that no large grass eaters will eat them. However, the ants ‘harvest’ these blades underground where the blades are placed into a garden of fungus, the rotten grass feeds fungus and the fungus feeds the ants. It is a continuous cycle of life here. In Northern Australia, termites memorialise their industry in sculpture and they are built on the north-south axis to protect them from extreme heat and flood. However, the ant eater can destroy these sculptures with their claws and their 60-centimetre length tongue with hook like features to scoop up ants from under the ground.
The impact of human activities and climate change on the grasslands
Bigger animals are not the only reason for the destruction of these sculptures for the ants. Natural fires are generally started by lightning, with a very small percentage started by spontaneous combustion of dry fuel such as sawdust and leaves. Fire destroys their homes and the exposed grassland, however the stems remained unharmed and the grass can grow again and regenerate.
Although grasslands can grow again after fires, frost, and flood, as climate conditions shift geographically so will the distributions of many plants and animals. The relatively flat terrain of grasslands increases vulnerability to climate change impacts because habitats and species must migrate long distances to compensate for temperature shifts.
Land practices are converting grasslands to cropland which increases soil erosion and surface runoff, and therefore attributing to habitat loss for many species depending on it for survival. It is important to protect and restore wetlands, for species as well as being an important part of grassland ecology. We can protect these grasslands by promoting more activities such as rotating agricultural crops to prevent the sapping of nutrients. As well as planting trees as windbreaks to reduce erosion on farm fields.